Monday, March 17, 2008

Grading topgrading

A recent issue of Workforce Magazine highlighted the lifelong work of Brad Smart, who vigorously endorses a method of assessment he calls "Topgrading."

What is topgrading? According to the article (and the website), it's a hiring method that places emphasis on rigorous, structured behavioral interviews using pre-established rating scales in conjunction with in-depth reference checking. The goal is to go beyond normal behavioral interviews, which are susceptible to faking, and ask about each and every full time job.

Coined by Brad Smart, topgrading has been getting more press lately, and Smart claims a history of success with the method, which isn't surprising given that we know that structured interviews are one of the most predictive forms of assessment. The method has many fans, including Jack Welch.

The technique does have its critics. For example, the article quotes a representative from DDI (a competitor) as saying DDI's method is more job-related and "objectively valid." DDI's approach is to use a larger variety of assessments to get a fuller picture of the candidate.

So here's the thing. When we're looking at a hiring process we have a whole menu of choices. We know certain types of tests tend to work well across the board (e.g., cognitive ability, work sample tests) while others typically don't (e.g., interest inventories).

We also know that tailoring the assessment method to fit the requirements of the job is critically important--and a fundamental building block of quality assessment. For example, matching personality requirements with the proper personality inventory makes a huge difference.

So is topgrading the right way to go? You can guess my answer: it depends. For the types of jobs it seems to be used for frequently, C-level positions, it probably does a pretty good job of predicting performance and those candidates may be more willing to sit through a very long interview. For other positions, a wider range of assessment options is probably the better way to go. It all comes back to the results of your job analysis and your candidate pool.

Like most things in life, there is no single one right way, no one answer. And we can't forget that job performance is about much more than just raw talent and focusing strictly on talent can be hazardous for your organization. But ya gotta give a lot of credit to the Smarts for evangelizing high-quality structured interviews.


Jim Kuthy said...

Topgrading assumes that the job candidate will have his or her previous and current employers available to speak with the interviewer. However, many candidates do not want anyone to know they are pursuing another job until after an offer has been given, especially their current employer (and their previous employer who may know the current employer). As such, its utility is extremely limited to only in-house promotions and not hiring.

HRagitator said...

I think the biggest challenge here is the sheer time it takes to conduct this type of interview. While I agree that in an ideal world we would take days to choose the best candidate, not hours, the fact remains that most companies have taken the "just in time" approach to everything including recruiting.

For highly organized and efficient companies with a highly stable income, this is probably an excellent approach. For dynamic, volatile business that change frequently to meet their market, this would be cumbersome, I think.

Anonymous said...

Topgrading is just another thing in a long line of BS management fads. It's 15 minutes of fame ended last year. Good riddance.